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Conservatives and liberals united?

It's a strange day when anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist and Trenton's leading liberal Jon Shure come to the Inquirer's office with similar pitches, but it happened today. Both men focused on transparency in government accounting, but for very different reasons.

Norquist, accompanied by Republican state Sen. Joseph Pennacchio (Senator Joe, as his business card says), arrived to talk up what they dubbed the "Transparency in Government Act" which would require the state to set up a Web site with more detail than ever about how it spends taxpayer dollars - down, they say, to every expenditure and every person who received a piece of state funding. According to Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform, eight states have created such sites. A sample of a few show differing systems and search methods, but exacting levels of detail. For example, on Kansas' site I learned that its Bureau of Investigation spent $900.75 at A-1 Lock and Key LLC, compared to $68.75 a year before.

Pennacchio, who has introduced a bill to require similar disclosure in New Jersey, said such easy-to-access detail will help citizens and reporters find waste.

"Every single dime the state spends is online. It's a good thing for the taxpayers," Pennacchio said.

For the record, New Jersey does post its budget bill online, though it is a massive document and difficult to navigate unless you have a sick obsession with budgets or are paid to review them. Many expenditures are listed in very broad terms only.

Shure, a former aide to Gov. Florio who often points to taxes he thinks should be raised, was nonetheless backing a similar cause as Norquist: transparency. He said New Jersey should follow the lead of some 40 other states and publish the list of tax breaks it gives out every year - or money that it would collect if it taxed certain items. For example, Pennsylvania notes that it loses nearly $900 million a year from not taxing all or some clothing. New Jersey last tallied its similar total 11 years ago, Shure said.

"Every dollar the state doesn't receive in tax revenue is a dollar it must raise by increasing existing tax rates or taxing something else - or by providing fewer services," said Shure's report, "The Invisible Budget Hides Spending Choices."

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